Over the last decade, the increasing importance of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) criteria has transformed the way that the energy industry innovates and operates. Investors are diverting capital away from companies that are lagging on these metrics and backing companies that can show tangible efforts towards improving sustainability and reducing environmental impacts.
In the wake of this, our industry is recognizing new applications for a circular economy model of production and consumption.
The circular economy is described by the Environmental Protection Agency as “an economy that uses a system-focused approach and involves industrial processes and activities that are restorative and regenerative by design.”1 In other words, this is a philosophy of designing products to be fundamentally less resource-intensive as well as recapturing waste to be reused or made into new products.
Closing Material Loops
There are a variety of practices in the artificial lift industry that align with the circular economy model. For example, by sorting and recycling the scrap metal from decommissioned ESP equipment, companies can cut back on landfill contributions and save energy associated with iron ore extraction. In fact, the process of recycling steel uses 74% less energy than what is required for creating steel from raw materials.4 Valiant has successfully implemented this practice of sorting and recycling steel in our facilities, helping to close an important material loop.
Most metals can be recycled indefinitely, and steel, in particular, has become the most recycled material in the world (more than glass, plastic, and paper combined!).4
Another practice that can improve environmental management is recycling water. As part of Valiant’s routine operations, water is recycled for two main purposes: testing and cleaning. Water used on the pump test bench is collected in tanks and skimmed to separate any debris and oil residue. The oil gathered during this process is collected by a third party where it too can be recycled into a usable product. The remaining water is treated using a chemical-free filter and stored in onsite storage tanks.
Onsite water storage tanks at a Valiant facility.
From there, the same water can be used to clean off equipment that comes back from the field, and the same process of collection, skimming, and filtration is used to return the water to its original state. Doing so eliminates efforts that would be required by downstream disposal companies to prevent contamination from oily water, which can have lasting impacts on ecosystems and be extremely costly to remove.
Furthermore, the reuse of produced water in shale oil extraction is becoming a more widespread practice in the field. As new technologies and improved infrastructure lower recycling costs, the industry will continue this trend toward reducing waste and freshwater demand in their operations.5
Efficiency Through Data
Digitalization is frequently cited as one of the critical engines of sustainable processes, but what does that really mean? For operators, achieving environmental benefits through digital solutions means leveraging software, connected technologies, and artificial intelligence to improve efficiency. In a product form, this can look like virtual production modeling that matches predicted wellbore conditions to the materials used in the design, or Variable Speed Drives that can help manage energy consumption.
In the same way that staying connected with our personal networks helps us stay informed and make better decisions as individuals, the connectivity of a digital oilfield will lead us to draw new correlations and employ integrated strategies over each asset’s lifecycle.
The circular economy model is not only taking hold in our industry. At every point along the value chain, from plastic manufacturing to automotive factories, companies are adopting more sustainable approaches to their processes that minimize waste and lower carbon intensity.2,3 In short, ESG initiatives require a holistic effort, and by applying circular methods to our operations, we can better the future of both our industry and our planet.
- Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). What is a Circular Economy? EPA. https://www.epa.gov/recyclingstrategy/what-circular-economy#:~:text=A%20circular%20economy%2C%20as%20defined,their%20highest%20value%20for%20as
- Laird, K. (2022, January 25). Heartland, Ravago collaborate on hemp additives for plastics. Plastics News. https://www.plasticsnews.com/news/heartland-ravago-collaborating-new-hemp-additives-plastics
- Ilaria Totaro, A. (2021, July 13). What does it take to make a car truly circular? Greenbiz. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/what-does-it-take-make-car-truly-circular#:~:text=and%20its%20use.-,The%20adoption%20of%20circular%20economy%20practices%2C%20combined%20with%20electrification%2C%20has,80%25%20per%20mile%20by%202030.
- Steel: The most recycled material in the world. Napa Recycling and Waste Services. (2020, September 11). https://naparecycling.com/steel-the-most-recycled-material-in-the-world/
- “Water, water everywhere…. (2019, November). https://www.worldoil.com/magazine/2019/november-2019/special-focus/water-water-everywhere